How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fall is a great time for big muskie

I rolled classroom lessons and senior trip all into one when I attended the University of Esox operated by Jim Saric and Steve Heiting of Musky Hunter magazine in Hayward, Wis., last week.

Major themes -- fall is a great time to catch trophy fish, and live bait is a good way to do it.

Reed Remley of Evansville, Wis., handled show-and-tell by boating a 50.5-inch muskie on a large sucker on his first-ever muskie trip.

My only muskie was a 38-inch fish on my first-ever live-bait outing. I fished with guide Dave Dorazio that day. He grew up at his parents' resort on the Chippewa Flowage, home of the current, but controversial, world-record muskie. Dorazio, 52, was in his early teens when he guided his first clients.

"I've got to do something, I've got to get a real job," joked Dorazio, whose clients have boated several fish over 50 inches. His own bragging rights comes from a huge 49-inch hybrid tiger muskie.

I fished the second day of the two-day outing with guide Daryl Neibauer, who guided Remley to the monster fish 24 hours earlier. We had no such luck. Unlike the first day of the school when most fish were caught on live bait, the second day yielded more fish with more action coming on lures. Neibauer caught a 34-inch fish on a 9-inch Jake. I was handy with the net.

Live bait can be used anytime, but it shines when water temperatures are dropping. Live bait consists of suckers that are bigger than many fish other anglers catch all year. They're about 14- to 17 inches long and weigh up to 2 pounds or so.

They're put on quick-set rigs, which are attached to the sucker by using a needle to push a rubber band through the nostrils. It's twisted a couple of times and put over the clasp of the leader. A large treble hook is inserted just barely in the side of the sucker. An adaptation is the Herbie Rig, which features a safety pin soldered to the treble to fix the treble to the sucker. Either way, the result is a fish that swims next to the boat.

One live-bait rig is set high in the water and the other is just off the bottom.

Each angler casts a lure on the second rod. Saric likes a Depth Raider, Ciscoe Kid, Ernie or a Believer in fall. Even if the crankbait doesn't catch a fish, it can "decoy" a muskie to follow it to the boat where it strikes the sucker, he said.

Muskies like to corral bait fish against an edge, said Heiting, who has caught as many as seven muskies in one day on live bait. That means you should position the boat over weed edges, hard-bottom break lines and the transition spots where hard bottom meets soft bottoms over basins, he said. Cast shallow while paying attention to the mood of the suckers. If muskies are around, bait that was placidly swimming next to the boat will start to panic, sending telltale movements to your rod tip. Get ready.

When a muskie strikes, lift the rod. No matter what you think, the muskie will not let go. Dorazio proved that point when he lifted a sucker to the surface to reveal a 40-inch-plus muskie gripping it in its teeth. The muskie would not let loose even though it saw us.

The hookset comes when the fish turns and swims away. Set it hard with a snap to break the rubber band and force the treble into the mouth. Done right, there is little chance of hurting the fish. As Dorazio said, live bait fishing is probably easier on muskies than using lures. One thing is certain -- quick set rigs are a lot better on muskies than the method used in the old days -- letting the fish swallow the bait. That killed muskies. In contrast, all of the 19 muskies caught by the students at the University of Esox, including Remley's trophy, were released unharmed.

If you want something to remind you of your catch, take several pictures, a measure of the length and girth and have a graphite replica made.

But, live bait has its drawbacks.

"You can catch eight or nine in a row, and then do the same thing and lose several in a row. Just when you think you've got it down, you miss some," Neibauer said.

Visit www.muskyhunter.com for more muskie information.

Tournament notes

The brother team of Jay Walsh from Chicago and Bill Walsh from Ottawa caught a six-fish limit of 10.59 pounds Saturday to win the Illinois Walleye Trail season opener on the Illinois River. Jim Melton and Joe Tonozzi were second. John Dalzot and Tom Giachetto were third. Next event is Nov. 13 at Henry.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Phone (309) 820-3227 or e-mail srichardson@pantagraph.com

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